If you can't walk then crawl -- but by all means keep moving

January 15, 2018

 

Jason Chesnut is a white evangelical pastor with a liberal arts background. He does anti-racism work and tries to follow Jesus. He says - in his mini bio on Facebook: "I'm trying to follow Jesus. And that mostly scares the shit out of me."  

 

In his recent scathing and thorough retrospective post on how crappy white people have generally been to black people over the years, he talks about how blatantly racist his liberal elite college friends were. One of his friends, "during a poker game one night, said we 'should just bomb Africa and start over.' " The author goes on to talk about some other, less "dopey" world leaders, similarly inclined to the asinine... He references Eisenhower’s CIA-led murder of Patrice Lumumba, for instance -- who was democratically elected in the Congo. Then, the genocide in Rwanda, and white narratives about it... "How could Africans do that to each other?" academics asked... without looking deeply at colonialism's role. 

 

It's good to see someone dedicate their lives to following Jesus and really walking the talk. I don't know the guy, but I thought it good to highlight his work today. He does seem to be doing what MLK championed. He's looking hard at racism. He's challenging the status quo. 

 

 “Like the early Christians, we must move into a sometime hostile world armed with the revolutionary gospel of Jesus Christ. With this powerful gospel we shall boldly challenge the status quo.” –Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

It's clear what he is trying to do. Give us pause. Give us perspective, lest we get confused for an instant that Trump is unique in his lameness. Nice white people, the world over, throughout history, a long, long way back, have been throwing black and brown people under the bus. And it's a good day if we can sit still and illuminate that, so we can see.

 

I remember going to Guatemala when I was 19 years old. Guatemala was one of those countries that never recovered well from Colonialism, and neo-colonialism made matters worse. The CIA toppled Arbenz in 1954 because he had such radical ideas as universal suffrage and a minimum wage. The CIA got involved primarily at the behest of the UFC lobby. (That's United Fruit Company.) So because of banana profits, they installed the military dictatorship of Carlos Castillo Armas, the first in a series of U.S.-backed authoritarian rulers in Guatemala. And the disappearances began.

 

I'd read about Guatemala in books for months before I took the trip. It took me about 5 days on 7 buses to make it to Guatemala city. I spent some time in gorgeous Antiqua studying Spanish. And some days on Lago Atitlan, learning to knit on a backstrap loom and doing hippy backpacker tourist stuff. And then I went to Guatemala City. One of my first stops was the dump.


The dump was a city in and of itself. Hundreds of families raised their children in a slum inside the dump. Kids learned to scour through trash looking for particular items that they could re-purpose or sell on the street. I asked one kid what he was looking for. He looked at me like I was an alien. "Plata," he said. Money. People get careless sometimes, and throw it away. Carelessly tossed pennies were his niche. Everyone had their niche, and everyone had their market share.

 

This was kind of grotesquely uncomfortable to me but I was compelled to see what was beyond the beauty of the castle walls. I'd been so privileged and didn't even know it. I thought my life was so hard!! I was a hot mess, see. An emotional roller coaster, and so much self-criticism and self-inflicted suffering! American culture was breaking my heart, so going to Guatemala took the edge off somehow. But the dump... It took me down a bit, to grok that the inequities in our societies are this extreme.

 

I spent my college years studying Latin America. I was shocked  at first, at how 'we' -- the US -- had meddled in the affairs of so many Latin American countries; toppling democratically elected leaders when they tried to apportion their countries resources to their own countrymen rather than allowing multi-nationals to maintain the neo-colonial power structure by extracting every mineral and every banana and every dollar of cheap labor out of Latin America. 

 

This is what power has done, and white people have had a lot of it.

 

The mind scrambles to figure out what to 'blame' all this on. Systems seem to be at fault. Classism. Racism. Othering, in a word. Sexism, too. Not enough women running things! The divine feminine, smashed down. 

 

The people that run stuff clearly have some responsibility. Those in charge of resources have a responsibility to drive the ship. But those who choose not to drive -- what about us? Those who eschew power, and hold ourselves back from leadership and growth? Do we avoid holding wealth or power because we're afraid we're not strong enough to handle it?  
 

Trump is like the effigy we are trying to burn, with our collective scorn. But we can't burn it all the way away because its tendrils are in us, too. We cling to comforts. We want more comforts. We know that things are broken and we live in incessant distraction. We tell ourselves that there is nothing we can do. We say little. It's exhausting. 

 

So we look at pretty pictures on FB, just getting tangled in the stories other people tell. Then we are in physical pain from too much computer time and we feel overwrought and we need a massage. And then we lay there during the massage, unable to relax. And then we write a blog post, about how it’s “painful” for us to see our racism, and our myopia, and our self-absorption, and so we choose not to. We blog about how this approach is not so helpful.

 

And then it's an echo chamber.  Echo... echo...

 

It’s so gnarly to realize what a prick one can be when tangled in conditioning: how we care more about our relationship dramas than other peoples' life or death. We can just barely take it, can just barely glimpse the enormity of it. We have fancy ways to rationalize it and not see it at all.

 

How can we be such a medley of qualities? How is hypocrisy so ubiquitous? We are trying so hard, so sincerely, to be good, aren't we?

 

Sorry if I'm not taking you anywhere appealing. I'm well aware I've almost lost you. There aren't easy answers. We all get confused.

 

But I think that sitting inside confusion can be a good thing sometimes, especially if you come to the other side having grown into something. 

 

"Drive all blames into one," say the Lojong teachings, and here's what that means to me: Anyone is capable of darkness, and it arises out of conditioned mind.

 

The ego, or conditioned mind, seems to be the author of all the most villainous behavior that humans come up with, but then, somehow, by grace, we return to ourselves. Because, to again quote King, “In this world is a God whose matchless strength is a fit contrast to the sordid weakness of man.” (I might say "In this world is a force..." as we have a different notion of source, but I share his sentiments.)

 

I also believe that, underneath the capacity for cruelty, everyone has a deep, fundamental, intrinsic capacity to return to love and respect and decency. All people.

 

When people are lost in the dark and they wake up to it, and they stop and try to take their own lameness in, that's a good thing. When people realize they've been complicit in a lot of short-sightedness, when they realize they've really been self-absorbed, they look at it, say sorry, and try to stop. Isn't that what we are all doing, now... because of Trump?

 

That’s what I’m gonna be working on, and it's a practice.

 

Sometimes I get depressed about this world, or even about my own seemingly arrested development. But it's true what MLK says, "If you can't fly, then run. If you can't run, then walk. If you can't walk, then crawl, but by all means keep moving."

 

We’ve all been so dismayed by Trump, and ashamed of America. But this pretending that he is the origin of all evil is definitely falling flat. 45 is a disaster, AND we seem to have gotten the president we deserve.

 

"There is no better teacher than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed."

  - Malcolm X

 

May we use the power of this disturbance to transform ourselves. May we use the power of this discord to move forward. May this seed turn us into something that reaches for the light, always, and stretches deep into the ground.

 

Because "darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." - Martin Luther King, Jr

 

 

 

 

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